Angels & Assholes for September 7, 2018

Hi, Kids!

There are certain milestones in life that make you sit back and say, “Damn.”

Tonight, I will join with old friends and fellow alumni from Seabreeze Senior High School for our 40th reunion.

Damn.

These landmarks on the road of life give us an opportunity to take stock, catch up and engage in some unhealthy comparative analysis of how our lives measured up to our contemporaries – the natural curiosity of who made it and who didn’t, who “won” and who “lost.”

For instance, one member of our class served as the lieutenant governor of Massachusetts – another died in prison.

Having spent virtually my entire life in the Halifax area, it’s nearly impossible for me to fabricate certain aspects of my life, but memory fades with age, and as time and distance cloud actual events, we tend to view them differently than perhaps they actually occurred.

For instance, as the reunion approaches I’ve been desperately trying to recreate history and convince my long-suffering wife that I was the B.M.O.C. – one of the ‘cool kids’ – but she knows me better than that.

Besides, we both agree that, at our age, the fact I have a lifetime government pension with an annual cost of living increase guarantees I’ll be the sexiest guy in the room. . .

The fact is, I was a terrible student – totally disinterested in the social and scholastic aspects that make high school such an important part of our formative years.  In fact, I was a habitual truant – and during my sophomore year, I skipped school a cumulative total of six-weeks out of a nine-week grading period. 

No kidding.  That happened.

Fortunately (in retrospect) my father played golf with Joe Nelson, our assistant principal, who remarked while finishing-up a round on the 18th green at The Riv, “Damn shame about your boy, Paul.  We haven’t seen him around campus in a crow’s age. . .” 

Whoops. . .

How I came to that low point in my scholastic career began the year before, when, as a freshman, I was packed up and sent away to Sewanee Academy – a traditional boarding school equidistant between Chattanooga and Nashville high atop the spectacular Cumberland Plateau on the 1000-acre domain of the prestigious University of the South.

It wasn’t because I was some recalcitrant asshole who needed a taste of the cane only a boarding school rector can properly apply – my parents just wanted me to have the best education possible.

When I arrived, the Gothic Revival architecture on campus was breathtaking, reminiscent of how I picture Oxford, and several years ago Sewanee was listed by Travel + Leisure as one of the most beautiful college campuses in the United States.

At Sewanee, I was required to wear a sport coat (or monogrammed blazer) and tie to class each day, maintain the living space I shared with another student, get myself up and off to breakfast each morning or go hungry, and quickly develop the social skills to make an adolescent life in the cloistered environment of a time-honored boarding school perched high on an often-foggy mountaintop.

To subsidize my tuition, I was also required to work a few hours each week in the mailroom, sorting and distributing sacks of mail and packages in the basement of Quintard Hall, my imposing limestone dormitory.

Obviously, the academic standards of a college preparatory school were necessarily high – and I clearly didn’t have the smarts to compete with my classmates, several of whom were legitimate geniuses who went on to become renowned surgeons, lawyers, authors, entrepreneurs, publishers, college professors, restaurateurs, songwriters, poets and playwrights.

My experience there was at once a tragic failure and one of the most intensely influential periods of my life.

Whenever you take a group of kids age 14 to 18 and place them together in a relatively secluded environment, what emerges is either a version of Children of the Corn or something truly special and transformative.

I’m happy to say that I came away from Sewanee with many wonderful memories, a few life-long friends, and a true sense of what it means to be self-sufficient, work collegially and live peacefully with others.

I also learned at that tender age that I didn’t need mommy and daddy to get me out of bed in the morning, or pick me up and pat my backside every time life threw me a sinking curveball.

I also learned that homesickness is not fatal.

Good lessons for a 15-year old.

When it became apparent that I couldn’t hack it academically, my parents made the not-so-difficult decision to bring me home where I was enrolled at Seabreeze Senior High School in Daytona Beach.

Needless to say, the radical differences between the two approaches to teaching and learning were staggering – and I think the extreme shift to the freedom and relative anonymity of a large public high school was a shock that my pea brain had real difficulty adapting to.

I was (and remain) a mathematical illiterate – call it a ‘learning disability’ or what doctor’s now lump together as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – but that part of my feeble mind a ‘normal’ person uses to add, subtract, multiply and divide is simply missing.

Fortunately, I could read critically, and write at a level to make myself understood, and unlike virtually every other member of my class at Seabreeze, I enjoyed public speaking (which earned me a spot giving the “Morning Announcements” via intercom each morning) and, in time, I settled into the comfortable role of a “poorly performing” student from whom not much was expected.

I was bored, disinterested and restless – not because I was too smart for the curriculum, but because I found it hard to focus and was terribly embarrassed by my complete inability to comprehend math at any level – and I was developing what would become a lifelong struggle with a chronic, but relatively benign, form of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

So, I found my inspiration in the solitude of the woods and on the water.  I enjoyed hunting, fishing and tramping through the wild places (before they were churned into muck for strip centers and ‘lifestyle communities.’)

Rather than catch the bus to school like I was supposed to, I would hideout and wait until my father left for work – then run back home and retrieve my old Ted Williams 20-guage single-shot from the gun cabinet – or my rod and reel – and a friend and I would jump in his beat-up truck and launch a boat from Bromley’s marina to fish the Tomoka Basin, or find a suitable field for an afternoon dove hunt during the season.

It was like something out of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – and, admittedly, I embodied at least some of Mr. Twain’s descriptors of “idle, and lawless, and vulgar, and bad” – except unlike the vagabond hero of the novel, Florida law required that I attend school on the regular.

So, I was finally captured and ‘civilized’ – forced to sit through the torturous process of the “high school experience.” 

During my three years at Seabreeze, I didn’t join clubs, play sports or go to prom – I just didn’t have the social or physical skills for that – but I could drink beer with the best of them.

That’s one learned skill from high school I still possess.

Whenever someone asks me where I went to college, I like to say in a self-depreciating joke – “The only thing that kept me out of college was high school.”  But it’s the truth. . .

Now, forty years after I somehow graduated, I will join with old friends to reminisce and swap fading stories, laugh over mildewed yearbooks, share pictures of grandchildren and see how – after all these years – life unfolded for the Class of ’78.

When I look back on it – I’m the luckiest guy in the world.

I won.

I’m proud to have spent my life in a worthy pursuit that mattered – working with some extraordinary people in a job I thoroughly loved in service to people who appreciated the effort.

I have comfortable shoes on my feet, a good roof over my head, and a handful of people who truly love and care about me, despite my sins and struggles.

My mind and body are still relatively limber, considering the miles I’ve put on both of them.

I’m certainly not rich – and I may not be able to do everything I want to do – but in retirement, I have reached my goal of never having to do anything I don’t want to do again.

As the great musician, poet and storyteller Ray Wylie Hubbard once said, it has been “a life. . . well, lived.”

For an awkward kid without much promise, there’s victory in that.

It’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.

Let’s look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was:

Angel:             Gloria Max, The Jewish Federation of Volusia & Flagler Counties

 Most would admit that we have our fair share of problems here on Florida’s Fun Coast, but we also happen to be blessed with some of the most dedicated, philanthropic volunteers and community servants anywhere – good people who simply do the right thing, for the right reason.

In my view, at the top of that impressive list is Gloria Max, executive director of The Jewish Federation of Volusia and Flagler Counties, who has made her life in service to those less fortunate in so many wonderful ways.

For instance, the Federation’s Jerry Doliner Food Bank serves more than 25,000 of our neighbors annually, providing weekly food staples for needy families throughout the Halifax area.  The organization also assists with clothing, furniture, household goods and medical equipment.

And their highly successful school backpack program has, for over 20-years, provided school supplies to disadvantaged children.  I understand that this year alone the program has provided backpacks to some 7,900 students in Volusia and Flagler Counties – meeting their goal of ensuring that every child is adequately equipped to learn.

It is my honor to bestow Angel status – and a permanent Barker’s View gold star – on Gloria Max, and her team of hardworking volunteers, for all they do to improve the lives of so many.

If you would like to help, please visit www.jewishfederationdaytona.org – or simply mail your check to the Federation at 470 Andalusia Avenue, Ormond Beach, FL 32174.

Angel:             Athletic Director Lynn Thompson, Bethune-Cookman University

By any metric, Bethune-Cookman University has been put through the furnace of late – but I’ve always felt that the true strength of the University are the dedicated people who hold the institution on their strong shoulders and work hard every day to protect and serve Dr. Bethune’s legacy.

Recently, the legendary Lynn Thompson became the longest actively tenured athletic director in NCAA Division 1  – having served as B-CU’s Vice President of Intercollegiate Sports for 27 years.

AD Thompson began his impressive tenure at B-CU as a young child, sneaking into the gymnasium to shoot hoops with his friends until the basketball coach would run them out of the building.

Later, he earned a spot on the Wildcats football team playing both quarterback and punter – and he even had a “cup of coffee” in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers in 1979.

Three years after becoming B-CU’s athletic director, Thompson became the first African-American to be named chairman of the NCAA Baseball Rules Committee.

In addition, he was instrumental in the University’s acquisition of one of the region’s top talk radio stations – 1380 The Cat – where yours truly appears the second Monday of each month as co-host of the popular public affairs forum, “GovStuff Live! with Big John.”

This month, Mr. Thompson’s impressive career was highlighted by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics.  During an interview for the NACDA magazine, Director Thompson said:

“This is not my job, but my ministry.  Can you believe the vast amount of people who go though life without finding what they truly have been gifted and called to do?  I am blessed to have found mine and although I have had my share of opportunities to lead other programs, I am thankful to have been able to make a difference in the lives of the people we have touched here at B-CU.”

We’re glad your path brought you back here, Mr. Thompson.

Angel:             Volusia County Sheriff’s Office

Kudos to the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, and the Office of the State Attorney, for their outstanding work in securing a first-degree murder indictment against the sub-human piece of shit who sold drugs to a 33-year-old Deltona woman – then allowed her to die of overdose while he hid drugs, destroyed evidence and covered his ass before calling for medical attention.

On February 1, 2018, Hunter Romaine, 24, of DeBary purchased heroin laced with fentanyl and provided it to the victim, Ashley Barrett.  This asswipe is the second person to be charged with first-degree murder in a drug overdose death in Volusia County this year.

Fortunately, this case also resulted in the arrest of two death dealers who were actively selling heroin in Volusia County.

In my view, we haven’t seen the bottom of the ‘opioid crisis’ in Volusia County yet – and my former colleagues tell me about the frequency of overdoses throughout the Halifax area.

Perhaps indictments such as this will send a necessary message that poisoning people has consequences – up to and including spending the rest of your natural life in prison.

My hat’s off to Sheriff Mike Chitwood and the brave men and woman of the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, as well as State Attorney R. J. Larizza and his gifted investigators and prosecutors who worked so diligently to bring this case to the Grand Jury.

In my view, this is groundbreaking law enforcement at its finest – and a job well done.

Asshole:          Volusia GOP Chairman-for-Life Tony Ledbetter

Former Volusia County Council candidate Tom Laputka was right when he said, “Some people are born assholes.  There are others who try really hard to be one.  Ledbetter is both.”

 Look, before this thing raises the partisan hackles of my Republican friends – please know up front that I am neither a Republican or a Democrat.  However, like my father and grandfather before me, I was a long-time Republican before both major party’s derailed into a shitstorm of radical players competing for who can stoop the lowest to win an election, and I fled to the relative ethical comfort of No Party Affiliation.

I just refuse to have my name associated with that merde.

Given the local Volusia County Republican Committee’s history of whale-dung level politics, I wasn’t surprised when Chairman-for-Life Tony Ledbetter was back in the news this week after apparently getting paid handsomely by the DeSantis for Governor campaign for stirring up the party’s lunatic fringe on social media.

According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Chairman Ledbetter took to Facebook and spewed salacious, inflammatory and anti-Semitic comments which he apparently felt hit all the right buttons for what his version of the Republican party now considers their base.

I’m not going to repeat them here – you can search them out if you give a damn what Mr. Ledbetter has to say.  I don’t.

Oh, I forgot to mention, according to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Ledbetter was paid a total of $13,500 by the DeSantis gubernatorial campaign for consulting and management, but he says he is not a campaign staffer. The DeSantis campaign did not respond to repeated requests for comment on Tuesday and Wednesday.”

 I’ll bet they didn’t. . .

Is it just me, or does anyone else remember the Chairman’s stupid call to ban history textbooks in Volusia County schools and his raging, pathological xenophobia?

How about his asinine polling place antics?

Or the patently crooked “voters’ guide” controversy that tarnished the 2016 Volusia County Council race – during which Ledbetter and his minions distributed sample ballots that included an effective (if ham-handed) scheme to give Ledbetter’s hand-select candidates – including our current doddering old fool of a Council Chair, Ed Kelley – special advantage by literally highlighting their names with a yellow marker.

I thought that would be the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back and Supreme Party Boss Mori Hossieni would finally say enough-is-enough and take Ledbetter out of the game.

Guess not.

Now, the DeSantis campaign has been smeared and saddled by this pestilent foul ball.

I’ve said this before, in my view, “Chairman-for-Life” Ledbetter is perhaps the single most polarizing force in local politics.  I’m not referring to the hammer and tong battle at election time, but the petty strife and angst he creates among his own local party affiliates.

Hey, Mori – I don’t ask you for much – but could you see your way clear to relieve Volusia County voters on all sides of the political spectrum of this shit-stirring drama-monger while there’s still something left of our collective dignity worth arguing about?

Asshole:          Defrocked Circuit Judge Scott DuPont

While we’re on the topic of gutter politics and those who practice that now virulent form of the art, yesterday we learned that disgraced former Circuit Court Judge Scott DuPont actually manufactured false and salacious information about his opponent during the 2016 election cycle.

Back in June, the Florida Supreme Court voted unanimously to jettison DuPont from the bench following allegations of “egregious misconduct during a judicial campaign” – a contest which ultimately returned him to office with 62% of the vote.

Hell, I voted for him.

In addition, the Supreme Court determined that while on the bench, DuPont also engaged in some highly irregular – if not outright goofy – judicial conduct, like holding a first appearance hearing on Memorial Day 2016 – without attorneys present (simply to meet his campaign schedule?) and once ordered bailiffs to physically search and seize $180 from a participant in a 2011 family court proceeding.

WTF?

Perhaps most disgusting is that during the 2016 election, DuPont not only failed to verify false information that his campaign spread about his opponent – but he apparently made up scandalous information about the candidate’s wife and daughter having arrest records out of whole cloth.

This is a sitting judge in the Seventh Judicial Circuit of Florida we’re talking about – not a run-off between Uncle Joe Carson and Floyd Smoot for Hooterville assemblyman. . .

Look, there are a few people I don’t want the terms “careless” and “reckless disregard” associated with, like my airline pilot, my doctor and my judge, to name a few.

DuPont’s tactics are eerily familiar to a famous story attributed to the late President Lyndon Baines Johnson, who during a 1948 Senate race, faced a formidable and well-financed primary opponent.

According to the likely apocryphal tale, LBJ turned to his campaign manager and “suggested they spread the rumor that his pig farmer opponent had engaged in acts of barnyard intimacy that provided him routine carnal knowledge of his sows.” 

“Taken aback, Johnson’s campaign manager protested, “But Lyndon, we can’t say that!  It’s not true!”  To which Johnson replied, “Of course not, but let’s make the bastard deny it. . .”

Indeed.

I ask you, gentle readers – What has changed in the last 70 years?   

Quote of the Week

“The $2.5 million is what the county was going to give us to build the shelter, not what the shelter would cost,” Gilliland said. “My expectations were always in the $4 million to $4.5 million range.  He said he doesn’t want residents to think the city “was asleep at the wheel.”

–Daytona Beach City Commission Rob “Gilligan” Gilliland, as quoted in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, regarding the skyrocketing construction costs at the languishing First Step homeless shelter.

Thanks for setting us straight, Commissioner.

Because to a lot of us, it appeared as though the city was not only asleep at the switch – but that you had abandoned the wheelhouse altogether.

I think what got us to thinking was when we watched in awe as Daytona Beach officials simply accepted the obscene price hike with an “Aw, shucks” attitude that left many wondering how ostensibly smart people – with a fiduciary responsibility to steward our hard-earned tax dollars – could simply shrug their shoulders and accept the tried-and-true “We didn’t know” responsibility avoidance maneuver – or actually believe that construction costs could possibly have risen $100,000 per month?

Whatever.

Now, here’s something to ponder between football games this weekend – Does anybody really believe that P&S Paving – a prolific government contractor whose president just happens to sit on the mysterious camera stellata at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – actually did us a courtesy by crediting “the city $1,064,000 partly to help the project and partly because it can sell some of the material it’s dredging.”

I don’t know.  I’m asking.

Why?  Because it smells funny.  That’s why.

But, hey, you know me – I’m the suspicious asshole who can’t simply say ‘thank you’ and accept $1,064,000 in corporate charity without rudely asking questions. . .

And while we’re on the topic – just who in the hell authorized P&S Paving – or anyone else – to haul off and sell lucrative fill dirt from property that belongs to you and me?

And why wasn’t that material used as fill during the horribly expensive site preparation work?

Inquiring minds want to know. . .

And Another Thing!

Congratulations to former Daytona Beach employee Sonja Wiles on the recent legal settlement of her claims and lawsuits against senior City officials alleging gender discrimination, harassment, retaliation, gender-based hostile work environment, First Amendment violations and Family & Medical Leave Act abuses.

She was summarily fired three years ago after bringing credible allegations of sexual harassment and racial bias against current and former senior administrators – but rather than bring about the transformative change required to stop this disgusting practice in the workplace and bring equality and parity to City government – Daytona Beach spent over one million dollars in public funds to fight Ms. Wiles tooth and nail.

At the end of this very ugly and incredibly expensive episode in our history, Ms. Wiles will receive $214, 655 in lost wages and damages, a $23,214 payment to secure her state pension and $218,500 to cover attorney fees.

Smart move on the City’s part.

I mean, who knows what would have come out had this sordid affair actually gone to court, eh?

Kudos to Sonja Wiles – and other brave women, like former DeBary assistant city manager Kassandra Blissett – who earlier this year settled a federal lawsuit against the City of DeBary and former City Manager Dan Parrott after gross allegations of sexual discrimination.

Now, I’m hearing some disturbing, though unconfirmed, reports through the Barker’s View telegraph that similar legal troubles may well be set to befall some “high-ranking” officials at Volusia County Schools.

I’ll stay tuned to developments – I hope you will too.

Perhaps as these massive settlements continue to rise, We, The People – and those we elect to represent our interests on the dais of power in local government – will begin holding those responsible for committing or condoning these outrageous acts accountable for their actions.

After all, why should we continue to pay every time some pasty-faced middle-aged, power-mongering bureaucrat in a cheap suit decides he’s entitled to deny opportunities, discriminate, harass and retaliate – or act out like a sexual buffoon – in a government workplace?

When are we going to start taking these punitive settlements out of their pockets instead of ours?

Sorry, there I go with the questions again. . .

That’s all for me!

Have a great weekend, folks!

 

 

 

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